No doubt Russell Latapy was one of the greatest Trinidad and Tobago players of all time. His talent left many fans drooling for more. Whether he was playing in Portugal, Scotland or Trinidad & Tobago, Latapy’s talent and vision was something to behold.
As a coach though, Latapy is finding it very hard to transfer his knowledge and experience to his team. His overall performance as head coach of T&T proves that being a good player does not guarantee you becoming a good coach; especially if you circumvent the channels the majority of coaches embark on to attain an international appointment.
This is why if you asked Latapy which team he loves coaching against since his time here as head coach he'd probably say Antigua and Barbuda. Why? Maybe because in his 20 month tenure Latapy holds a perfect 2-0 record over our Caribbean neighbours, his best record to date against an international opponent.
With a total of twenty-three games, Latapy has managed to cough up nine wins against Martinique (1-0), Haiti (4-0), Guyana (2-1), St. Vincent and the Grenadines (6-2), St Lucia (3-0), Antigua and Barbuda (1-0 & 4-1), El Salvador (1-0) and St. Kitts and Nevis (3-2); three draws against Guyana (1-1), Belize (0-0) and Mexico (2-2); and twelve losses against Grenada (1-0), Cuba (2-0), Jamaica (twice, 3-1, 1-0), Panama (3-0), Costa Rica (twice, 4-0, 3-2), USA (1-0), Honduras (4-1) and Mexico (2-1).
Let’s start with Collin Samuel. In Latapy's first game as head coach, Collin Samuel came off the bench and scored a great goal in the 63rd minute against Costa Rica during the 2010 World Cup campaign. T&T eventually lost the match 3-2, but nonetheless, Samuel’s goal gave the Warriors some hope and pride at the least. Samuel was an unused sub for T&T four days later when they played Mexico at the Estadío Azteca and was subsequently never called up by Latapy again.
Silvio Spann, a good player indeed, however Spann was released by his Welch based club Wrexham in early 2010 and stayed clubless for a few months. In October 2010 Silvio decided on rejoining his former employer W Connection and played in a game or two. Shortly after he was named on T&T's 2010 Digicel Cup team, Silvio accepted the offer and flew off to Martinique with his international team-mates. A day or two later Spann was shocked when he learnt that he was cut from the team and had to fly back to Trinidad. His place was taken by an unfit Cornell Glen, a player who has been recovering from an injury and was not featured much for his club team San Jose Earthquakes in the 2010 MLS season. When the Digicel Cup squad was announced, Glen was declared injured. Then two days later he was fit and a day after - Voila! Glen was on a plane to Martinique. Don't you just love T&T football?
I wonder what is the criterion for getting selected to the T&T team. Jamal Gay has been clubless for over six months after his German club Rot-Weiss Oberhausen released him back in March 2010. Gay returned to Trinidad and decided that he will not join any club for whatever reason. He had regular run-outs with Dream Team in the UWI Employees Super Football League, but that was about all Gay did to pass time and keep some manner of fitness. Latapy took a liking to Gay and called him up to join his team and in seven outings Gay managed just one item against none other than Antigua and Barbuda in September during a tri-nation President’s Cup Challenge. After the Cuba defeat though, Gay was never heard from again.
Did Latapy actually have a good start to his international coaching career? The former Falkirk star managed to pull-off some decent results against bigger teams in the region. But the results were all for the sake of pride and off course FIFA ranking. His team drew 2-2 with the already qualified 2010 World Cup bound Mexicans in June 2009. Latapy also garnered wins in a wooden spoon battle against El Salvador also during the 2010 World Cup campaign and an already eliminated Martinique team from the 2010 Digicel Caribbean Cup.
Always reluctant to communicate with the public and name his squad, Latapy loves to defend his tactics and players at whatever the cost maybe. Latapy has taken T&T to its all time lowest FIFA ranking in over a decade. In September of this year T&T were ranked 106, however, with a series of wins in the semi-final stage of the Digicel Caribbean Cup (DCC) T&T jumped twenty-eight places to 78 in October 2010 edition, a ranked T&T would find hard to defend.
The Soca Warriors were quickly brought back to reality and could not justify being the Caribbean’s number one team for too long. A team producing a lack luster performance and a coach who seemed to have been guessing from the sideline on what game play, formation or starting line he would use next paid the price. The Warriors felt the aftermath of Hurricane Thomas as a solid Cuban team whipped them 2-0 in the DCC opener.
To make matters worse, another hurricane was on its way in the form of Grenada. Coach Latapy quickly made changes to his team and formation and despite a better football display from his troops, Grenada punched the wind out of T&T with a 1-0 win. This result eliminated T&T from the regional tournament as well as the Gold Cup for the second consecutive time.
One would have to assume that a variety of hypothetical scenarios crossed the T&T head coach’s mind at the time, and one can also suspect that he was thinking of some of T&T's foreign based players who could have made a significant impact on this inexperience team.
T&T did however bounce back in a meaningless game against the host. The Warriors bowed out of the DCC tournament with a 1-0 win over Martinique that revived Latapy's hopes and everyone but the diehard Warrior fans was smiling again as if they had just won the Caribbean Cup. One wonders, does Latapy’s employer feel the same?
Technical Director Lincoln Phillips told the Express there was no need for "knee-jerk decisions" despite T&T's second successive failure to reach the final four of the Caribbean Cup and qualify for next year's CONCACAF Gold Cup.
"We need to look at the issues and not make any knee-jerk decision. We are not the only country (who has footballing issues)", Phillips added."
Recently reappointed TTFF President Oliver Camps also chimed in and stated that it would be premature to fire Latapy based on the results of the Digicel tournament.
Latapy, who knew about the Digicel Cup Cup tournament months in advance said his team was unprepared and blamed the Pro League for having FA Cup and Pro League games during an international game week. In February 2009 when Latapy was still eager for success and fresh on the job he met with coaches and representatives of the T&T Pro League clubs at the Technical Department Offices of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation at Kantac Plaza.
Among those attending the meeting, were San Juan Jabloteh coach Terry Fenwick, W Connection’s Stuart Charles Fevrier, Mau Pau manager Brent Yorke, Tobago United’s Peter Granville, Caledonia AIA’s Jamaal Shabazz, United Petrotrin’s Philbert Jones and Police FC’s Muhammad Isa. Also present was Pro League representative Julia Baptiste.
Latapy described the meeting as one which served its purpose in exchanging and discussing ideas relating to the development of the League specifically as it related to the national teams from the junior to the senior level. He emphasized the importance of an ongoing healthy working relationship between the Federation and the League and his willingness to work towards the betterment of the sport in his capacity not only as a senior team coach, but one who will be assisting in the development of the game at the youth level.
It seemed deep down that none of the TTFF & Pro League members were on the same page and the idea blew away quicker than you can spell Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis. But was Latapy's success or lack thereof a set up? Was Latapy trying to swim in a bucket of water? Did he get the tools and support to do his job? Was he offered help, but refused because of job security? What role did the T&T Federation heads play in Latapy’s poor performance as our national team coach? All these questions are surely being asked, but it seems no one will ever find the answers and we as supporters will always be left in the dark.
For the record TTFF special advisor Jack Warner came out in public and said ” Latapy would receive whatever technical assistance he needed. He has whatever players he needs and if as he goes along… if he feels he needs help he will get it. If he feels he needs the help of the Jabloteh coach, we will do that. Latapy must decide that from his own judgment."
From Scotland to Trinidad, the T&T legend went from coaching Falkirk's Reserve team to becoming head coach of the national senior team of Trinidad and Tobago. Latapy was first appointed the assistant coach to Colombian Francisco "Pacho" Maturana in September 2008.
At first “Pacho” was not happy with Latapy joining his staff and declined his help stating that he already had his own staff and would prefer having Latapy take the field where he belongs. That eventually changed and Pacho had no choice in the matter, but to accept Latapy's help alongside him on the bench.
The moved seemed to have affected the Colombian’s plans and after some poor results Maturana was forced to resign as manager of Trinidad and Tobago. This came on the heels of Latapy's appointment as his assistant in April 2009. Latapy was then named interim head coach the very next day. Upon his appointment he was told by CONCACAF President Jack Warner that he was on a trial run and that Latapy had just a few matches to make his mark as head coach before a new appointment was made.
Before Maturana left though, he did leave clues for Latapy. He mentioned that we had to try and heal the division within the team, because that division would have hindered its progress. The Colombian was in essence telling the TTFF there was disharmony between the locally-based players and the overseas-based players, and the locally-based players felt threatened when the overseas-based players came back to the fold.
No Man Is An Island
The “Little Magician” declined any help and decided to do it on his own and with only one win against El Salvador, a draw against Mexico and five defeats (against Costa Rica twice, Honduras, United States and Mexico) Latapy somehow passed Warner's trial run and got the job to lead T&T. In March 2010 the T&T federation named Mr. Russell Latapy its new head coach and he was quickly on his way to officially sit in the “hot seat”.
Latapy then appointed a former teammate Marvin Faustin his assistant coach, but that appointment soon became a mystery as Faustin seemed to have fallen off the face of the earth. Ross Russell subsequently replaced Faustin, but even his actual role on the team was unclear.
Before the aforementioned appointments took place, former T&T player Anton Corneal was also T&T assistant at the time Latapy got the job and apparently Latapy's appointment did not go down to well with Anton's father- Alvin Corneal, another former T&T player and coach who was quickly off his seat blasting Russell Latapy’s appointment.
“It’s not personal really, Latas (Latapy) does not have a history of coaching, he’s never been to a coaching course. It is not true to believe that because you’re a good player, you become a good coach,” Corneal told CMC Sports while in Barbados conducting a FIFA coaching course.
In a September edition of the T&T Guardian. Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs and former TTFF enemy Anil Roberts threw out a challenge to the Soca Warriors head coach, which could have resulted in the former national player, losing his job. The out-spoken Roberts called on the former Porto and Hibernian star to lead T&T to a record ninth Caribbean Cup title, or consider quitting as national coach.
Roberts further underlined the importance of 2010 Digicel Caribbean Cup by stating, “The reason I say this is because the Government of T&T has made qualifying for Brazil 2014 a national priority. This is not just in works, but you will see in the next few months the kind of investment into football we will be making.”
“However, this government will not sit and have no say. We will have a say because investing money does not ensure success,” ended Roberts."
The trouble didn't end there and had seemed to have just started for the onetime T&T hero. Prior to the DCC it was rumoured that Latapy and his players were not paid in a year. To make matters worse, the possibility loomed that they would never get their money as the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation may cry “broke” again. This as a result of the ruling made by the Supreme Court in Port of Spain, ordering the TTFF to pay its 2006 World Cup squad 50% of all income the Federation promised the Soca Warriors for their World Cup appearance in Germany 2006.
Maybe there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel and all may not be doomed for Latapy and his team, but help may come from a strange place from none other than Sports Minister Anil Roberts himself. Roberts stated in October 2010 that a Cabinet note would recommend that the Ministry of Sport take over the payment of salaries of the national coach and his staff from Warner and the TTFF. He warned however that there will be conditions to the payment of elite coaches.
If the rumor is true, Minister Roberts may have to resubmit his budget to the T&T government as it was reported in the Trinidad Express that Latapy makes a hefty $248,000 a month, as well as a $72,000 housing allowance, $32,000 vehicle allowance and a $50,000 overseas travel allowance that will total $1,146,000 over the four-month period September to December.
Will we see Russell Latapy’s tenure as head coach come to an end later this month? Only time will tell, however my guess is we most likely will at some point, as rumours have already been reported that French coach Jean Tigana and former Dutch international Ruud Gullit have been shortlisted to take over from the “Little Magician”.
How can we continue supporting a team that is a continuous disappointment; a team that plays with no heart and determination; a team that seems to always be underprepared and poorly coached? Many of the fans have turned their backs on T&T football as we seem to be stuck in the football wilderness. I however, am still a proud fan of T&T football and to discard what we have achieved since our inception in the game of football would be counterintuitive. So I would still hang in there and dream of Brazil 2014. But with the state of our football and World Cup qualifiers just around the corner, that dream may remain just that…a dream.
Finally, after T&T failed to advance to the final four of the 2010 Caribbean Cup, Russell Latapy appealed to the T&T fans to continue supporting the Soca Warriors in what he described as a learning period. I however believe that if he hasn't learned anything significant in two years since his appointment, then he may have to go back to “school”. My humble recommendation would be to keep Latapy within the national set up, but not as senior men’s coach. A role as assistant coach or head coach of one of the youth teams may be more beneficial to both Latapy and T&T at this stage of his coaching career.
Whatever lies ahead for Latapy and T&T is uncertain at this point; however what is certain is that something needs to be done quickly if we hope to regain our pride and status as a Caribbean powerhouse.
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